TYSON WHITNEY PHOTO North Island Secondary School in Port McNeill has enforced School District 85’s community use policy for its gymnasium, which Councillor Graham MacDonald says will undermine his community badminton programs.

NISS gymnasium causes controversy

“This is about making facilities that are paid for by the public available for the public.”

Port McNeill Councillor Graham MacDonald is fed up with School District 85’s (SD85) community use policy causing problems for his adult/youth badminton programs, which have been held in the past at North Island Secondary School’s (NISS) gymnasium.

MacDonald told the Gazette that he is being forced to have a NISS teacher sponsor his community badminton programs, and if he is not able to have a teacher involved, he will have to pay the required rental fee and insurance costs involved in using the gymnasium.

“This is not about me, this is about making facilities that are paid for by the public available for the public, especially for our youth,” said MacDonald via email. “Schools are now down to 190 days a year, closed on weekends — how does that serve us when we are here 365 days a year?”

MacDonald added that for years “A janitor opened the gym for us — the school district has changed that policy, and now a teacher has to open it, janitors cannot do it anymore. The turnover of teachers is high, and the teachers don’t get paid for this forced volunteerism.”

SD85 Secretary-Treasurer John Martin, who has been employed at SD85 since 1988, said MacDonald was incorrect with his statements. “I’m not aware of a school district that would just allow its facilities to be used by anyone — these are multi-million dollar facilities, and in the interest of taxpayers, the facilities need to be properly cared for and governed, and that includes rules and regulations that need to be followed when people from the community want to use them,” said Martin. “There’s also no relevance with having a teacher sponsor, unless it’s an actual school group. If it’s a school-related program or activity, then it’s considered to be one particular priority for use, and there’s a number of different priorities — everything from commercial use all the way to school use, and when we get a request we have to figure out which group you fall in to.”

MacDonald said he has been running badminton programs in Port McNeill since 1981, and “what we do works — Our youth program is directly connected to play with adults, and I always love the look on a kid’s face when they reach a level where the adults ask them to join them in a game. Many of the adults spend time teaching kids, or just enjoy playing against each other, and parents come and play with their kids.”

The adults pay to play, and the youth get to play for free.

MacDonald feels his program has benefitted the community quite well for many years, but now the school district “is undermining it” by enforcing its policy.

‘I’m not sure if an error was made in the past in terms of how much was being charged, but if an error was made, we always have the right to correct the error,” said Martin. “It very well could be that for many years a program that should have been paying fees has not been paying fees, and it’s been realized now by whoever is handling the bookings.”

Martin added there should be no exceptions to the policy. “The policy is here for a reason, otherwise you have some individuals being treated inconsistently, and that’s not fair when some are paying and some are not.”

SD85’s community use policy was approved in January of 1990, and it has been amended several times over the years to deal with new issues that have come up. You can read the policy online at www.sd85.bc.ca.

“We appreciate Mr. MacDonald’s volunteerism over the many years,” said NISS Principal Jay Dixon, when asked to comment on the issue. “For liability, safety, and supervision purposes, SD85 policy must be followed for all community members requesting personal use of facilities.Unfortunately in regards to badminton, staff and student interest in school based badminton is not where it was in the past. Mr. MacDonald is encouraged to follow the same processes of all other requests from community members.”

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